Today in History

On this date in 1940, Polish soldier Witold Pilecki allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis. He was a captain in the Polish resistance, and he wanted to find out what was going on near the town of Auschwitz. His superior officers believed it was just a German camp for prisoners of war, but Pilecki suspected that something else was happening there. He hounded his commanders until they finally gave him the go-ahead to join a crowd of Polish citizens who were being rounded up by Nazi soldiers. Pilecki, who left behind a wife and two young children, was taken to Auschwitz along with the others, just as he’d planned. He was given a number — 4859 — and soon realized the true purpose of the camp.

“Pilecki remained there for nearly three years, during which time he smuggled out detailed reports of the atrocities with the camp’s dirty laundry. His reports of gas chambers and ovens to dispose of human remains were so horrific that no one in the Polish underground believed him. And even though his reports made their way to the British and the Americans, suggesting ways to liberate the camp, still nothing was done. Meanwhile, he did what he could to arrange escapes for his fellow inmates.

“Finally, in 1943, frustrated with the lack of action, Pilecki faked a case of typhus and escaped from the hospital. After the war, the Polish underground recruited him to spy on the country’s new occupiers, the Soviets. But he was captured by the Polish Communist regime and executed for espionage, in 1948. His story was suppressed until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.”

From the Writer’s Almanac, Retrieved from http://www.garrisonkeillor.com/radio/twa-the-writers-almanac-for-september-19-2020/ on September 19, 2020.


I didn’t know about Pilecki.

Grant

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The History Channel offered a capitvating documentary mini-series on the life of Ulysses S. Grantthis week. It’s still available online. We saw it advertised when watching The Last Dance and thought it would be worth checking out. I didn’t know much about Grant other than he was an important General during the Civil War and not much of a president. I’ve learned that that was an inaccurate view of a brave, intelligent man.

Grant grew up poor. His father was a tanner and both parents were staunch abolitionists. He went to West Point where he wasn’t a shining star, but he met men like Robert E. Lee and other future Civil War leaders. When he fought in the Mexican-American War, his distaste for war was solidified, but he also proved to be unique in his ability to think clearly in the heat of battle.

This documentary features several notable historians and shows the complexity of a great military strategist and a popular President who’s become forgotten through the decades. The commentary is interspersed with excellent reenactments.

Part of the reason for Grant’s tarnished reputation is that in the 1960s, Southern historians published profusely and changed the narrative reshaping Grant’s life so that he came across as a drinker who became a corrupt President.

From this documentary you learn the complexity of Ulysses S. Grant. He was an abolitionist whose father-in-law bought him a slave, a slave that he soon freed. At the time Grant was poor and couldn’t support his family, but believed in equality and though he could have made a lot of money by selling rather than freeing this man, chose to free him. Yes, Grant drank, but he also knew that was a weakness and dealt with it. He’s a man who knew failure and poverty, but overcame them. He was an honest man, a military genius, and popular President who sought to bring a divided country together.

Grant is a gripping documentary from start to finish.

 

Poem of the Week

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Shiloh

By Herman Melville

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
      The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
      The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
      Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
            And natural prayer
      Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
      Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
      But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
      And all is hushed at Shiloh.
I’ve been watching the powerful documentary on Ulysses S. Grant so I thought a poem on one of his battles was apt.

 

Sepia Saturday

200422 : Sepia Saturday 519 Header, 9 May 2020

Another week of inspiration from Sepia Saturday, my source of inspiration for nostalgia or history. The photo above reminded me of the two young criminals Leopold and Loeb. Note the boys above look like fine, upstanding citizens. But so did the pair of wealthy boys from Chicago, who schemed to commit murder.

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While in their 20s partners in crime Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb carried out their plot to kidnap and murder 14 year old Bobby Frank. They requested $10,000 ransom from their victim’s parents.

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Loeb (l) and Leopold (r)

Clarence Darrow defended the pair in court and convinced the judge to give them life in prison rather than the death sentence. Many books and some films have told their story.

To see other interpretations of this week’s prompt, click here.

 

Sepia Saturday

2004009 : Group Of Ladies (Aunty Phylis?) (EP20)

Oh, the days before social distancing . . .

This week Sepia Saturday challenges us to post images inspired by a new prompt each week. The photo above made me think of shawls so I searched Flickr Commons for images with women sporting shawls. Enjoy!

Click here to find more Sepia Saturday posts.

shawls c

National Library of Ireland, 1893

Women selling fish or vegetables

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Musée McCord, 1901

Aboriginal women and children, Vancouver, BC

not a nun c

Powerhouse Museum, 1900

She looks like a nun to me, but no, she’s a woman in a fancy dress according to Powerhouse Museum.

llyfrgel

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, 1867

Three Welsh women